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A review on Teleworking / Telecommuting / Distributed Work

This is a topic I have come across a lot in my reading lately as it seems to be ever more relevant in times of an economic downturn…organisational issues such as capital costs and talent retention, and personal issues such as cost and happiness all become much more highlighted.

Actually, in addition to lifestyle, it also may be an emergency alternative in the event of biological scares like Swine Flu.

NOTE: Similar terms are: working from home, telecommuting, distributed work, mobility, digital nomads, remote teams, virtual teams…

We have some online tools now that make remote managing and working more effectively possible, and as some say this may be the Future of Work, and the world, as it has a collective benefit beyond organisations.

Reason’s for Telework

  • Reducing carbon footprint and oil imports
  • Reducing capital and operational costs
  • Saving of personal cost and time for workers
  • We now have some real-time solutions (Video conferencing, Desktop sharing, Instant Messaging) as well as more effective asynchronous communications (Blogs, Forums)
  • Pushes our aim for a collaborative culture by default
  • Pushes a work-in-progress culture (managers keeping tabs by reading a workers blog for raw updates, rather than having to wait for the final draft or a meeting)
  • Pushes to form connections in online networks
  • Happier  workers
  • Talent retention
  • Encourages more productive self-reliant workers

Blog post excerpts on this topic

Working from Anywhere:

"Not intended to supplant traditional workplaces, third places, just as the phrase suggests, are an alternative to the first place, the formal corporate office, and the second place, your home. Our research, in fact, shows that workers of the future will on average spend approximately 40 percent of their time in corporate facilities (either theirs, or their clients) 30 percent in a home office, and the remaining 30 percent in one or more third places. We believe the use of such third workplaces will become very common during the next several years, for the following reasons:

Organizations will continue to move away from fixed-cost structures to variable cost models in order to reduce capital requirements and risk, and to increase their agility or responsiveness to changing environments;
Most remote and mobile workers do not have adequate alternate meeting places, office services or technical support that are affordable and convenient;
Home-based independent workers also need and want better technical support and services ?"

I like this excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

"Employers should adopt four-day workweeks and permit or expand telecommuting. A four-day workweek would eliminate 20% of commuting. Telecommuting could eliminate even more. Management Technology Associates studies show win-win-win benefits. Businesses reduce premises’ costs, overhead and labor with gains in productivity of 10%-40%. Workers enjoy significant fuel and time savings. Society reduces fuel use, traffic congestion and pollution."

I like this post on happier workers vs drones:

"Today, more than 12 million employees telecommute or “telework” more than 8 hours a week, up from about 6 million in 2000, according to Gartner Dataquest, a firm tracks this sort of stuff. The number will hit nearly 14 million by 2009.
It’s been increasing at a steady rate for several years.
Because it makes sense, it’s eminently economical, and it’s green.
Telecommuting is enabled by technology, of course. Electricity, a computer, the Internet, a cell phone or telephone are the basics.
The benefits to workers are terrific. Telecommuters largely are happier and more efficient than office drones. Their workday can span 24 hours. They can work and spend time with family.
Think about how many resources companies spend on building and maintaining offices - maintenance, insurance, utility costs, furnishings - the list can go on and on. With telecommuting, most companies could function equally well with a smaller bricks-and-mortar footprint."

The Future of Work & Home:

“more than 28m Americans now work from home at least one day per month and the number is expected to rise to 100m by 2010.”

Telecommuting - One of the Best Responses to this economy - Undress for Success THE best Guide for this:

"Kate Lister, principal researcher at TRN said, “Today only 7.7% of about 16 million Canadian workers telecommute, but 5.2 million more could. If eligible employees worked at home just half the time it would be the same as taking 1.6 million cars off the road for a year. In fact, 170,000 homes could be powered for a year with the energy saved in office electricity alone.”

This blog posts further describes two scenarios in the cost of work, one from the employee and the other the employer.

Digital nomads:

"Through its open work program, which more than half of Sun’s workforce takes part in, workers have no official desk and, instead, are given the choice to come to the office and find an open space or not come in at all. Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s chief executive, explains to the Economist that because of the program, Sun has been able to retain its employees longer and increase productivity."

More on Sun:

  • The average worker only used 64 watts per hour at home, compared to 130 watts per hour in a Sun office.
  • Commuting was responsible for 98% of each employee’s carbon footprint.
  • Working from home two and a half days per week saves two and a half weeks of commuting time per year.
  • The same amount of work at home saves 5400 kilowatt hours of energy per year.

Click here for Sun’s Open Work program.

Department of US Government Gets Why Teleworking Works:

"You might not believe the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) would be a hotbed of telecommuting, but it is. The federal agency, made up of 5,000 civilians and 1,600 to 1,700 military personnel, provides information systems support for the DoD."

Telecommuting Trends (review of the Economist’s Home Warriors article)

  • Another study estimates that 33m Americans are employed in roles sutable for telecommuting; removing these commuters from daily travels could drive down oil imports by 25% and reduce carbon emissions dramatically…with the added benefit of increased productivity and perhaps even vacation time. 
  • Employers are beginning to understand that increased agility, reduced costs and enhanced business continuity can flow from encouraging telecommuting, actually strengthening a business’ competitiveness and resilience whilst removing large capital and operational costs from the bottom line. 
  • Studies of remote workers at American Express and BT show that they can be 30-40% more productive.
    A separate study concludes that remote workers can suffer from career stagnation and isolation, but ironically suggests that richer, ambient and persistent communication channels are the solution.

The State of Telecommuting

"The simplest bottom-line numbers: 17% of Federal employees telework on a regular basis, as do 14% of private-sector employees. There’s been a marked change in the reasons employees offer for being interested in telework as well. Compared to last year, the number of people who are motivated by lowered expenses - primarily commuting expenses - has jumped from 31% to 67%. (This data correlates well with an IBM study from earlier this year that found $4.50 per gallon gas would be the breaking point for many commuters)."

How come Distributed Work is Still the Next Big Thing?

A paper called, How come Distributed Work is Still the Next Big Thing?, lists six reasons and eight barriers for distributed work.


  1. Reducing basic workforce costs
    • Cost reduction (Sun, IBM, Cisco have reduced real estate and facility costs by 50%)
    • Workers need less support as they learn to solve problems with technology (not sure about this one)
  2. Increasing workforce productivity
    • Reduction in inefficient meetings
  3. Attracting and retaining talent
    • Talent retention due to better family life and reduce personal costs eg. Travel
  4. Increasing organisational agility
  5. Reducing the business risk of disruption from terrorism or a natural disaster
  6. Reducing traffic congestion, air pollution, and environmental impact more generally

"…one of the most unproductive things we do in the entire economy is move millions of bodies into central business districts every morning and then back home again every evening.

In the Industrial Era, given the technologies of the time, there was no choice. Factory workers had to be in the factory to work. Not only that, but all points on the assembly line had to operate in synch; the activities were tightly interconnected, and highly dependent on each other."


It also hones in on some of the eight barriers to distributed work:

  1. Inherent human inertia against externally imposed change

    "…people resist being changed, because it means loss of personal control and generates an unknown future where they fear being less successful than they are in the present"

    "Distributed Work places a huge premium on self-reliance and on being productive and work-focused even in the absence of the work-culture “messages” that every corporate facility sends nonstop."

  2. Organisational inertia
    • used to stability, predictability, and efficiency
  3. Management habits and Industrial-Age thinking
  4. Fear on the part of middle managers
    • lack direct observation/interaction/control
    • disintermediation/irrelevance
  5. Fear on the part of front-line workers
    • new skills to master
    • different social stimulation
    • do people recognise me
  6. Uncertainty about communication and relationships in a distributed environment
    • meetings become special and not abused
  7. The CEO "Edifice Complex" that leads to visible corporate facilities
    • bums on seats
  8. Plain old complexity-Distributed Work is truly a Big Change


How does the business case fit into your context/strategy/requirements

Where is it best applied? Perhaps workers with certain roles? Perhaps a couple of days a week? Perhaps workers that live far from the office? Perhaps it’s an only offered for special circumstances, or offered in temporary blocks?

How will the challenge effect operations..a change management process? They have an ROI Calculator.

Corporate Agility

Below is a slidedeck on the future of work, which is based on the Corporate Agility book.


Telecommuting and the Untethered Employee
Is Your Workplace Results Oriented or Time Oriented?
What makes web working more difficult?
6 Answers About Telecommuting
Why Your Boss Doesn’t Want You to Telework
Trends in Teleworking
Are Web Workers Truly Green?

Read the original blog entry...

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